Grand jury: Call and response
The county, along with its various department heads, got a chance to respond to the 2004-05 Butte County grand jury’s report, which at the time of its release was called “scathing” and “controversial” by local media. The July report was critical of several county departments and procedures.
By far the most serious charges in the report were leveled against the county’s Department of Development Services (DDS), which it charged with erratic project approval, poor customer service and mishandling of projects. In that same section, three supervisors, two of whom are still serving, were described as being part of a “triumvirate of chutzpah” that supposedly bullied county planners into green-lighting projects at the behest of powerful friends and campaign donors.
The response to the report could hardly be referred to as scathing. The two remaining supervisors on the board who were accused of being part of the triumvirate, Paradise’s Kim Yamaguchi and Richvale’s Curt Josiassen, initially had little to say at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“I don’t agree with everything in the report but I do recognize the sacrifice [of the grand jury members,]” Yamaguchi said before calling for public comment.
When frequent board observer George Minas took the lectern to laud the supervisors for each taking care of business in their own “fiefdoms,” Yamaguchi decried the characterization, saying “'Fiefdom’ implies that we are ruling by some aristocratic situation. We are not. I personally never forget who I represent and how I got here.”
The grand jury’s report doesn’t actually say anything about fiefdoms, but it does accuse Yamaguchi of “attacking the [former] director of DDS” as part of “an aggressive clandestine plan to undermine the ability of county government to regulate development.” Yamaguchi and the other two triumvirate members, the report states, hold the attitude that “the approval of a specific subdivision or project is viewed as a win, and the concerns for the impact of the precedent set in policy are considered a nuisance.”
Those attitudes, the report states, led to a system of favoritism in granting plan approval as well as a “substantial hidden debt [which] has the potential to hinder the policy vision, economic development and quality of life in Butte County for decades to come.”
Josiassen is singled out in the report for inappropriately using his influence to push through plans for a Durham duck club on property owned by a wealthy Butte County rice farmer. Josiassen, a rice grower himself, did not respond formally to those charges Tuesday. Instead, he clasped his hands together and rested his bearded chin upon them for much of the discussion, only speaking up to second Chico Supervisor Jane Dolan’s motion to accept the county’s response to the grand jury report. The motion passed 4-1, with Chico Supervisor Mary Anne Houx voting “no.”
The formal response, available online at www.buttecounty.net, deals with specific responses to the report’s recommendations. Much of it is a tepid wash of legalese that often disagrees, but sometimes accepts the grand jury’s criticisms. Out of 10 recommendations dealing with DDS, the county states that eight are either fully or partially implemented or are in the process of being implemented. Shortly before the grand jury’s report came out, former DDS director Yvonne Christopher resigned her position, which was taken over by County CAO Paul McIntosh. The board seems to be holding off on finding a replacement until the department is stabilized.
Oroville Supervisor Bill Connelly took the opportunity to restate his support for the five veterans’ halls the county owns, which the grand jury found to be underutilized and in disrepair. The county is currently trying out a new management regime for the Paradise vets’ hall that it hopes to bring to the remaining four halls soon.